Project Principal Investigator Dr. Ayona Datta and Co-Investigator Dr. Padmini Ray Murray were invited to give talks at the Digital/Visual Publics ‘Visualising Digital Heritage, Futures, and Other Temporalities’ public lecture organised by Digital | Visual | Cultural which took place on January 7th and 8th 2019 at St. John’s College Auditorium, University of Oxford, UK.
And we're off! @dvcultural is bringing together academics and practitioners in digital and urban technologies. Today, we're talking pollution sensing, public participation, urban screens, and urban tech futures. If you can't be here, there will be summary podcasts soon. https://t.co/VB8wcjtBZJ
.@AyonaDatta on Government 2.0, a new form of tech. enabled governance, transferring the burden of security of the individual citizen onto the citizen him/herself, which is predicated on the smart city working smoothly and efficiently in tandem with technologies of surveillance
Datta flags up how colonisation seen through the lens of time leads to the tension between the "slowness" of tradition and the "speed" of modernity; the gendered experience of time, temporality determined by the quotidian rhythms determined by the expectations held of poor women
really interesting question from the audience @dvcultural re: how citizen-driven endeavours to respond to environmental damage & change actually elides neoliberal responsibilism, and might not be as impactful on policy as desired, which ultimately is an exercise in power.
Tomorrow is the big day. Digital Visual Publics commences tomorrow at the St. John’s College auditorium. Just uploaded the annotated programme to the event page, which you can access here. Have a look if you’re in Oxford and still on the fence:https://t.co/G53oCYXkvP
Had a very engaging and thought-provoking couple of days at the @dvcultural Digital Visual Publics event in Oxford. Gave me so much to think about regarding temporality, participation and meaning-making with digital media. Many thanks to the organisers and all involved! pic.twitter.com/21XU8n6X2N
Sunayana Wadhawan, Sound Artist and Music Director
It all began with the young women of Madanpur Khadar, when they voiced their idea for expressing their thoughts and experiences in the city through a song. Inspired by the youth and emerging alternative media around them, the young women began envisioning themselves as being heard and becoming visible in the fast internet world.
Music is a powerful instrument to connect with people, their personal experiences and their struggles. It is present in the personal as well as public spheres of our lives, and has the potential to overcome social and physical boundaries within and across communities. This was their first time trying their hand at an experiment with evolving genres of music like hip-hop and slam poetry, and we collectively turned it into an opportunity to find our voices, our rhythms, our styles, and think more deeply about our reasons for engaging with music.
All the women involved in this song, including me, are women who are working and/or performing domestic work at their homes. We met every Sunday for a few hours as that was the only day we didn’t have to go to work outside. The sessions were based on the following themes that were covered over a period of 10 days in total.
Introductions and discovering rhythms: To work together, it was important to first get to know each other and share our personal stories and struggles, issues that affected us the most, our aspirations and our love for music. We respected the stories each one of us shared with the group, these stories accompanied by tears, laughter and much more. We also searched our memories for issues and incidents that affected women in cities to bring alive narratives and people’s stories previously missing in our conversations. While we acknowledged that our bodies were a site of violence in the city, we also discussed notions around desires for freedom linked to our bodies. This also led us to explore how and why we enjoyed dancing to songs from different regions and understanding how rhythms flow through our bodies and can give a sense of freedom of movement.
Apart from clapping and dancing, one of the exercises I conducted was an attempt to find a shared rhythm using a timing that we are all familiar with – the sounds made when we wash clothes. It was an extraordinary moment as all the women had different styles of washing clothes and each one of them was well versed with the actions and sounds involved in washing clothes – a domestic chore often delegated to women in the house. We all settled on one of the easier-sounding styles that helped us make the sounds collectively in rhythm and in unison.
History of hip-hop and finding your own genre: From discussing the history of hip-hop as a medium of protest and expression, to observing how hip-hop has been embraced in India over the last few years, we watched videos and grooved to different songs to become more familiar with the sound and delivery of messages through spoken word/hip-hop music. We also watched videos of emerging female hip-hop artists in India like MC Kaur, Dee MC as well as songs like ‘O Womaniya’ that revive local dialects, music instruments and traditions with the help of technology. We did a few exercises to come up with rhymes in Hindi and English, inventing words to find a way to express ourselves and help us warm up to writing our song.
Lyric writing: Taking from the conversations we had during our introductions, each of the women penned down their own story as well as the stories of others they had learnt about from the news or even their neighbourhood, in the form of prose, poetry and couplets. The challenge here was to let different stories emerge and express them in the least amount of words possible. We worked on the stories and rephrased them, added rhymes to them, and began reciting them to each other. We then stood in circles and recited different verses alongside some hip-hop tracks I had prepared for our sessions. This process also helped us edit and put the verses in an order that allowed the stories to become more connected and cohesive as one collective narrative, while at the same time retaining everyone’s individual voices and words.
Recording, tracking and mixing: Initially, we had planned to hire a studio and gain experience of working in a studio environment, surrounded with all its technologies, as budding artists. However, constraints on time, and being unable to get all the women to a studio for several hours on the same day, limited our options. We decided to take inspiration from our situation, absorbing it into the process of creating this song, and borrowed a good quality sound recorder to record each of the women singing/reciting different parts of the song. Their voices echoed through the lanes of the neighbourhood when they were practicing and collectively recording parts of the chorus and other lines. It was challenging to balance the sounds of a busy neighbourhood and the sometimes timid voices of women who were finding their inner strength to do justice to the emotions they tried to express in the song. Yet, we managed to find spaces in their homes, and Jagori’s local office, to record to our best abilities as the women juggled between their responsibilities and their excitement for recording their very first song.
Once the recordings were done, we heard them out and selected those that were well-recited and fit well with the tempo of the base track. After organising each of the voice clips of the track on software with the help of sound professionals, we worked with, and gave inputs to, the sound professionals to ensure the tracks were mixed in a way that separated each of the voices without making them sound disconnected.
Then came the most exciting moment for all of us – to hear the final track together. It was a Sunday again, and most of the women who took part were present during our first collective listening session. The happiness in the room was evident from the smiles on everyone’s faces at hearing their own voices in the final version of the track. Some of the women were so overwhelmed at their achievement that they had tears rolling down their cheeks.
It has been a wonderful and enlivening experience to be a part of this journey to find our voices, imbibe the joy and power possessed by music, and witness a growing sense of pride and confidence in the women as they expressed hope to continue making more songs and spread powerful messages in their city.
Read the other blogs on our new #GSCProject initiative:
‘Filming ‘Khadar ki Ladkiyan’ [Khadar Girls]’ by Nandan Latwal, our Film Director and Creative producer, here.
‘The City is For You and Me’ with the music video by Dr. Ayona Datta, Project Principal Investigator, here.
I was lucky enough to be a part of this research network and feel strongly about the overarching objective of this research project. My association with the ‘Gendering the Smart City’ project was quite serendipitous and has been rewarding in many ways. Without going into too much detail, I would like to share a few challenges that we had to face during the making of this video with the Khadar girls.
Poster created by: Ayona Datta
Availability – Although the Khadar girls might appear homogenous, yet the group was quite diverse in terms of identity. They ranged from unmarried, divorced, to single mothers; most of them were working outside their homes and some pursuing education alongside this. Amidst all the personal, professional and educational pursuits, it was tough for them to take time out for participation in the project and particularly for the film. The working women often came to the filming sessions even if they have to make excuses at work. Those who have to take care of their family were continually moving between the filming sites and their homes.
Onlooker’s reactions – It is clear from the music video that it is of an open genre where the Khadar girls speak back to the city about their day-to-day challenges particularly around violence in public spaces. Most of this music video have been shot in the streets, main road and open market – places that are frequented by men in general. The Khadar girls had to withstand this male gaze in public places, often also from their neighbours or relative. Even though initially they were uncomfortable with this gaze, they stood firmly through this.
Image Credits: Ayona Datta
Infrastructural challenges – In the #AanaJaana StoryMap Dr. Datta has shown how in recent years urban transformation has taken places in Madanpur Khadar JJ Colony. Khadar is on the outskirts of Delhi NCR with least or minimal infrastructural development. The roads were narrow with no public transport and modern monuments of garbage everywhere, with cows scavenging on them. On the last day of our shoot there were no electricity all through the day, no streetlight, and no place to charge our equipments.
Breaking the ice with Khadar girls – My association with this project is nothing but serendipity and this serendipity happened on the night before the day of the shoot. So when we started filming, although Dr. Datta and her team had been working closely with the Khadar girls but my crew and I were strangers to them. To be able to achieve a music video of a good quality we felt that it was critical for us to know them better. We spent a half a day just to get familiarise with each others through various participatory video training sessions.
Image Credits: Ayona Datta
Facing the camera – With the advent of smart phone and cameras at both in the back and at the rear people have become adept at photography and taking selfies, but a camera with a cinematographer on the other end is still threatening to a lot of people. I have seen people serving at high posts in government and corporates stammering in front of a camera. Shooting with the Khadar girls was also not easy. We had to take numerous shoots for a single 5 second line and at time with a zero percent success rate. The first day was exceptionally challenging with little progress, but we began to have more of a rapport on the second day. Dr Datta also did a few shoots on the third day and practiced some of the shots with the girls. The last few days of shooting went smoothly with the last day going exceptionally easily as reflected in the video ending.
My strict task-master attitude – My personal attribute might have been a challenge for both the Khadar girls and me as director and producer in charge. As a director of the process I had to be assertive at various points and with each repeat shot I was also losing patience and failing to keep my calm. But at the end of the process the Khadar girls and I had come much closer than falling apart. We have ended the filming with a lot of mutual respect and camaraderie. I hope we can stay in touch and develop more films in the future.
Please click here to see the ‘Khadar Ki Ladkiyan’ music video.